'TILL DEATH DO US PART
BPD and The Marriage Crucible

By Shari Schreiber, M.A.
www.GettinBetter.com

 

Probably the most heartbreaking aspect of my practice, is hearing from hard-working family men who are married to borderline disordered females. These fellows have taken their wedding vows seriously, and it's never occurred to them to have affairs or leave their marriages--despite of how much neglect or abuse they've suffered.

You must try to wrap your head around the fact that Borderlines do not treat marriage as a new beginning--but rather, an end-game. All their seductive behaviors, their caregiving and affection, their understanding about you and your needs, come to a fairly abrupt halt once you've tied the knot. That sexy Siren you've fallen for could literally shut down the candy store, once she's secured this relationship. By now, you're in too deep to extract yourself--and besides, you're not the kind of guy who breaks his word (no matter what)!

You start thinking that if you try a little harder to please her, that girl you were crazy about will return--but it seldom happens. This doesn't mean you won't get a crumb or two along the way (if she wants something from you), but your needs stop mattering. The Borderline's withdrawal starts out very subtly, but a couple of months into this wedded union, you'll find yourself missing the bliss part. This present reality is so incongruent with your pre-marital status, it can only be thought of as a fluke--and you'll pass it off as such. As the years go by, you're faced with the dreadful awareness that this 'phase' has become permanent--but it's impossible to leave, without severe financial repercussions. There are feelings of 'quiet desperation' you want to escape, yet you don't know how, or where to turn for help.

Without a doubt, the most painful part of this type of coupling, is the shame your partner puts on you for having any needs. When you ask for closeness or intimacy, you're labeled as being "too needy." When you try to have an adult conversation with your partner about your concerns, they might deflect your attempts by consistently making you believe you're not communicating properly or your timing's bad--so that you're crippled at the starting gate!

I hear from men who've had an extramarital affair, usually with a Borderline. They phone me needing help to recover from that relationship--but it's soon revealed that their wife is one too! She may be the less volatile Waif/Martyr type, who's long-suffering, needful, guilting and shaming--but she's got BPD traits just the same. It's a hard pill to swallow, but it's pretty common.

Men don't stray from a primary relationship because there's not enough sex (unless they have BPD features). Men stray, to get their needs for affection and closeness met.

One of the most destructive consequences for a man having an extramarital affair, is he is crucified by his children. Their mother makes certain they view him as a monster of course--but they only hear one side of that story. Long after a husband/father leaves that marriage, his ex-wife portrays herself as the victim of his "cheating," but his kids never get to see who's actually lit that keg of dynamite, nor comprehend the relational upsets that forced him to look elsewhere.

Some wives actually sanction their husband going outside their marriage to meet his needs; "if sex is so important to you, go get a girlfriend!" but later recant, saying they didn't mean it. Let me be perfectly clear: No reasonably sane, healthy woman ever gives her partner walking papers, or permission to leave the marriage bed, because she knows that once that barn door's flown open, it's nearly impossible to get a stallion back to his stall.

This woman could have stopped responding to your needs for closeness, sex and sensuality due to her supposed physical ailments or 'female' problems. She may have dutifully provided you some manual or oral relief, but withheld access to a fuller, more nourishing/intimate connection. She makes you feel grateful for all she's done for you, but when you step back and really look at this playing field, is it actually balanced--or have you been brainwashed into thinking it is?

A Borderline wife who's urged her man to go elsewhere for comfort, will use the affair against him, from the moment he attaches to someone else. She'll clobber him with this "betrayal" for the rest of his days--even though she's pushed him out that door and into the arms of another female! She'll play the victim, and turn his kids and everyone else in their world against him, by slanting her story to make it sound as if she's totally blameless. She'll keep referencing this issue in the midst of every minor tiff they have, and kitchen-sink him with a barrage of failings or faults that have nothing to do with the topic at hand, until he's overwhelmed, belittled and castrated.

Since it's very likely your needs and feelings got pushed aside in childhood, it's completely understandable, that you wouldn't fight for them now. Often, a "what's the point?" attitude kicks in, and you resign yourself to living with the anguish that's inherent in these couplings.

Husbands of Borderlines manage to tolerate a litany of abuses before they reach out for help, or begin scouring the Internet in their efforts to identify the reasons behind this agony they've endured for years--or even decades.

Many of these men grew up with controlling/demanding mothers and passive fathers. Given that children learn from example, this relational dynamic has unwittingly been replicated within their own marriages, and is accepted as 'normal,' regardless of the terrible chaos, drama and pain they've "learned to live with." Their mother was the Matriarch--the "glue" holding it all together. Their father gave into her whims and wishes, just to keep the peace.

No man can keep putting out fires and slaying dragons all day at work, and look forward to having to do battle at home! When there isn't a soft place to land, he's never able to recharge, regroup and recover from life's demands--which is why mortality rates are higher in men, than in women.

Some of these husbands report that many years have gone by, since they've been able to experience any loving sensual/sexual contact with their mate. Of course, there's a weighty threat of abandonment that hangs over them, if they even think about going elsewhere to get their needs met. Fear of loss keeps them trapped in endless cycles of neglect, from which it seems there's no end in sight. They'll painfully admit; "If I stay, I can't have my needs for intimacy met--but if I venture out, I'll lose everything--even my kids!"

A few of these men think it's critical to stay for the children's sake, but this is folly, for these kids learn to define 'marriage' by what they have observed, and typically replicate their parent's passionless, conflictual dynamic during adulthood, or they may never marry at all.

A child from this type of home may have the sense that he/she is all that's keeping the parents from divorcing. This can have far reaching ramifications for this kid, as growing up means leaving the nest--and no longer being the reason his folks are staying together. He may resist going away to college, forming outside interests, learning to drive, looking for work or romance, etc. As his failure to lauch is influenced by his sense that 'family unity' depends on it not happening, even his social development may be delayed.

Parents who stay "for the kids' sake" are typically scared of being alone. This fear/anxiety can be resolved with specialized, core-focused care.

It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing.

Borderlines might offer sex after marriage, but you'll have to be the initiator, and risk being turned down, when you are! If you're close to your forties, it stands to reason that 'getting laid' may not be your top priority. If this were not true, you'd still be out there trolling the bars and looking for action. We outgrow that urgency (with any luck), and desire more restorative, connected experiences in our sensual/sexual life. In short, we're craving far more than a hollow escapade that feels like mutual masturbation.

The worst kind of lonely, is the loneliness you can have in a relationship! It has you feeling a deep sense of betrayal from which it's nearly impossible to recover. When a partner is unresponsive to your need for closeness/comfort and lacks empathy, you can't help feeling you're incidental to them--and it's awfully hard to rebuild emotional trust from there. We may have experienced a lack of being valued in childhood--so this rips the scabs off those archaic wounds, and breaks our heart and spirit even further.

I've known men who got married with the ideation that their wife would be a good mother. This may have come true, however they've bitterly complained about not getting enough attention, affection and sex during the course of their marriage. My sense is, they've subconsciously chosen the missing piece from their own childhood--the nurturing mom they'd sadly, never known. The trade-off is, their kid gets what they never got, but they've lost their lover. I see enormous ambivalence in these men. On one hand, they might derive vicarious satisfaction from observing loving interplay between their wife and child--but feel cheated/jipped out of those crucial supplies themselves. This mother could be enmeshed with her child, which fosters an unhealthy bond that makes him/her feel responsible for the mother's moods and well-being. In these instances, a male child often adopts the role of surrogate husband.

A borderline disordered mother may intensely focus on her children (or yours from a prior marriage). Her devoted attention to them could appear healthy and wholesome--but provide convenient excuses for avoiding closeness and connection with you! If you're patiently awaiting the day when your children are grown, and hoping to share more sexual/emotional intimacy when the nest is finally empty, that's a lovely fantasy. It's actually very common for a couple's conflicts to escalate during this time, due to fewer "distractions."

Neglected fathers learn to tough it out, but may adopt coping mechanisms that entail working longer hours, drug/alcohol abuse, overeating or secretly going to porn or dating sites, just to salvage their bludgeoned egos. These men speak to me about having nothing to look forward to and feeling dead inside, and they sometimes wonder; "whatever happened, to that happy-go-lucky guy" they used to be?? These are clinically depressed husbands.

What God has joined together, let no man put asunder. I do--or do I??

Marriage vows were constructed back when people didn't live past thirty-five years old, so 'till death do us part, had an entirely different meaning than it does today! People raised a gaggle of kids to be farmhands, and tend to the family's food crops or livestock business. Couples were more dependent on each other, and a single woman was unable to support herself. This is no longer true in our world--but it's remarkable how many females live totally off the fruits of their husband's labor--yet resent being housewives, and all that entails. I can't help but wonder what they do with themselves all day long when the kids are grown--yet the housework is chronically neglected.

A few men have told me, they didn't care if they died. Since Borderlines are too broken/defended to own their wrongdoings (and shortcomings that are pointed out, are projected back onto their partners), conflict resolution can not be achieved in these marriages. Any attempts at problem-solving just leave the spouse of a Borderline feeling beaten-up and crazy. Inevitably, he gives up trying to reason with her or fight back--and hands over his balls. To me, this outcome is the most tragic consequence of poor self-worth.

Borderlines can be incredibly vindictive. They'll control their partners with all sorts of threats, should they even consider leaving: "You will never see your child/children again!" is a pretty common fear tactic that Borderlines use to keep men from fleeing these torturous unions. Another one, is "I'll take you for every cent you have." I know of a man who committed suicide to escape his wife's wrathful vengeance after they separated. She had entrapped him, by the way--and I guess he thought shooting himself was the only way out of his anguish. His widow still insists it was "an accident" while cleaning his rifle. If you're hurting, seek immediate medical attention!!!

In the core of nearly every man who gets involved with a Borderline, lives an incurable People Pleaser. When he isn't placing someone else's needs before his own, he feels unlovable and unworthy of receiving affection, attention or praise. He's been programmed from early boyhood, to be perfectly polite and always concerned with how others regard him. This has lead him to discard personal facets and feelings, that might not win him acceptance or approval from others. He's hypervigilant about controlling his moods, all his behaviors and how he's perceived. His sense of Self is predicated on making sure that everybody in the world likes him, and thinks he's beyond reproach.

Due to boyhood conditioning, he's willing to accommodate/accept all sorts of deficits within his marriage. The wife might seldom cook or clean, she could be unwilling to do household tasks or shopping--especially when anxiety or health issues are cited as an excuse that keeps her homebound. Her brand of helplessness and inertia could span the length of their marriage--yet he won't rock the boat by confronting her, for fear of reprisal or "making it a lot worse." This is an old carryover from childhood feelings/concerns that were punished, rather than soothed by a parent--which went something like this; "If you don't straighten-up, I'll give you something to really cry about!"

The truth is, it really can't get worse. If you're living with such emotional pain/torment that you've wanted to die, it's as bad as it's gonna get!

Men who love Borderlines feel guilty for simply having needs, due to esteem difficulties in childhood, which turned them into codependent fixers/rescuers, to begin with. Awareness of needs triggers sensations of shame. Expressing needs is a foreign concept that strikes dread in even the mightiest of men.

The continuous stress of emotional/psychological warfare affects the human condition more than physical abuse, and some men develop serious ailments during their time in these relationships. Prostate problems, heart conditions, blood disorders, herpes breakouts, migraine headaches and glaucoma are a few of the souvenirs men have retained from these relationships--regardless of how physically powerful they were, before they met the Borderline. One of my ex's was married to a borderline disordered female for twelve years. He's now suffering with a form of Parkinson's Disease--and trying to stay alive. If you've repressed your anger in this marriage and felt long-term resentment, cancer may erupt in your body. Let's help you find your voice, and keep you emotionally sound, and physically well.

If the ongoing stress of this relationship doesn't kill you, domestic violence might. These women have little capacity for empathy or impulse control--and one fine day, a heavy iron skillet or knife may cause irreparable bodily harm.

Do we ever consider that men are battered in domestic squabbles? Probably not--but I assure you it happens far more frequently, than you might guess.

Shame is the key ingredient which prevents males from coming forward and reporting their abusers. That, and their understanding of how the law usually works, and assuming that one fabricated comment from the 'Missus' will land them in jail, instead of her (regardless of evidence to the contrary)! Until we begin to accept that women are just as culpable for violent/heinous acts as men, horrible inequities will continue to exist in our 'justice system.'

Aren't females still the weaker sex? Sure! Unless they're Borderlines.

 


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